Never Too Late!

At our house we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and we also give a nod toward the Solstice.  This year we planned to observe the Solstice with a bonfire, and burn twenty years’ accumulation of tax receipts in our firepit, but it never stopped raining long enough to light a match.

Eli and I told Christmas and Hanukkah stories at the Renton History Museum.  One cannot properly tell stories without feeling the spirit within, so we were primed for both holidays.

Afterwards we went to Farmer Brown’s Tree Farm to cut our own Christmas tree.

Then we went home to light the menorah.

 We had company this year, cousins of my father, the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.  June Aptekar Allen Smith and her husband Haskell traveled to Seattle from Texas to celebrate their first Hanukkah ever.

They played dreidel and sang the blessings for the first time, just as June’s ancestors had done for nearly two thousand years.

At 88 and 89, they are still fascinated by the world around them, by history, travel, current events, and the stories of strangers they meet in their every day life.  We reconnected with June and her daughter Leslie ten years ago, at an Aptekar family reunion in Tucson.  They introduced us to June’s niece Nancy and her husband Ian, who happened to live right here in Seattle, and who we now love like, well… family.

We compared notes and stories about our Aptekar roots, taking into account June and Haskell’s meticulous research, papers and letters from my mother’s attic, my Grandma Rose’s recently rediscovered autobiography among them.  Cousin Bryan drove up from Portland to represent the descendants of Dave Aptekar, yet another branch of the family tree.  We pieced together all our snatches and snippets and scraps of information into a more comprehensive family history, from before the pogrom of Odessa in 1905 to my great grandparents’ subsequent immigration through Ellis Island, and on to Detroit.

In 1905, the Aptekar family huddled in the cold and the dark, listening to the screams of horses and the crash of breaking glass, as Cossacks charged down the street, burning the businesses and homes of Odessa Jews, killing 800 Jewish men, women and children, and causing 2, 500 casualties.  Trapped inside without food or fuel for the fire, the Aptekar family huddled in their winter coats, and broke through ice in the water pail to drink.  With tears streaming down his cheeks, my great grandfather Jacob Aptekar chipped tiny pieces of sugar from the sugar cone to feed to his hungry children, promising them he would find food for them soon, while making a silent promise to himself to move his family far from that hateful place forever.  Jacob’s hair turned white overnight, and my Grandma Rose’s little sister Clara died in her arms.

Victims of 1905 pogrom in Odessa

Over the next two generations, time, geography, estrangement, and self-imposed exile tugged at the threads of the Aptekar family tapestry.  But more than a hundred years later, the descendants of Jacob’s children, Reuben, Rose, and David, gathered around one table for latkes, applesauce, and Hanukkah sushi.

Broken threads can be repaired and rewoven…

…and it is never too late for a happy ending.

All words c2012 Naomi Baltuck.



  1. Jueseppi B. says:

    I need a family like yours Ms. Naomi….want to adopt a big grown militant Black brotha from another mother for next Christmas?

    1. There is always room for one more!

      1. Jueseppi B. says:

        I need lots of room!!

      1. Jueseppi B. says:

        Let’s keep that quiet Ms. Lesley….it’s a secret. 😉

      2. Jueseppi B. says:

        I sometimes pass for caramel.

      3. You guys are hilarious!

  2. Oh, my – this one brought me to tears. Such a beautiful story. Thank you, Naomi.

    1. Dear Cathryn,
      You are so kind-hearted. I appreciate your visit and your generous response.

  3. How tragic. So much has passed and yet we seem to continue on the same path! Naomi taking in both worlds is a toughie but you do it so well – I LOVE the couch photo. Happiness your way in 2013 – may we never have to live through those tragedies again.

    1. Dear Lesley,
      Well said! Thanks so much for the visit. Best wishes for a kinder brighter new year!

  4. Steve C says:

    I read this while listening to the soundtrack to Everything is Illuminated… not intentionally… but quite appropriate! Best wishes to ALL of the Baltucks for a wonderful 2013… 😉

    1. Hi Steve,
      That is one of my favorite movies! And the soundtrack is great. Best wishes to you for the New Year.

  5. What a heart felt post, Naomi ~ What a special time of celebration and reflection! ♥ Thanks so much for sharing your fam with us!

    1. Thanks for coming by. It is always a pleasure to have a visit from you, Paula. Best wishes for the new year.

  6. scillagrace says:

    Ah, you don’t disappoint…the grand story, epic, historic, et al. and in pictures… the twinkly lights and candles….and the FOOD. Hanukkah sushi! Now, that’s BRILLIANT!

    1. Thanks so much, Scilla–you are always so generous with your comments. My vegetarian kids have figured out a way to make delicious vegetarian sushi–with just enough oil in them to qualify as a Hanukkah dish! Happy New Year to the whole family.

  7. kathy says:

    What a heartbreaking – and ultimately heartwarming – story. Your grandparents and great-grandparents would be so proud and happy to see their descendants sharing that Hanukkah meal.
    Best wishes to all your family and have a wonderful New Year!

    1. Thank you, Kathy. I hope you had a good Christmas, and I wish you all the best for the New Year.

  8. Pat says:

    A very beautiful story. Loved reading it. What a beautiful tradition to celebrate Hanuka and Christmas.

    1. Thank you, Pat. The more to celebrate the better! And soon we will have a brand new year to celebrate. All the best to you and your family for the New Year.

  9. tobyo says:

    my goodness, how very interesting!! We too celebrate both Hanukah (and why are there so many spelling of that word anyway?) and Christmas in my house. I come from a Jewish family but became a Christian at 16. But I still have my heritage that I want to pass down to my daughter so….but I also wanted to say reading parts of your history here reminds me of my own. My roots are in Romania (and somewhere upstairs I have the name of the town my grandparents came from) and Kishinev which I believe is now in Moldova? for years I called myself Russian/Romanian and then the USSR broke up so then I started calling myself Ukrainian because I thought that’s where Kishinev is but looking at the map a year or so ago, it sure looks like it’s part of Moldova. anyway, my grandparents from Kishinev also came to this country to escape the pogroms tho I am not sure what year. I recently searched the Ellis Island records online for both families with no luck. I wonder if my uncle would know….oh anyway, sorry to go on and on! I found this post so interesting!! thanks so much for sharing.

    1. That is so interesting, Toby! Being Jewish is so much more than following a certain religion. My Jewish heritage is really important to me, and it is something I wanted my kids to understand a feel proud of. I urge you to ask your uncle to tell you some stories and share his memories. Ask anyone else who might know about your family. Unfortunately, too often by the time we learn to care about such things, the ones who know the most are already gone.

      My daughter is learning Hebrew and Yiddish, and one day I will take the kids to Odessa to see the shtetl her great grandparents came from. If we don’t make it there, we will still have the story. It puts a face on history, and helps us become deeper participants in the world. I hope you find out more of your story, and then share it with us in a post! Best wishes for the New Year!

      1. tobyo says:

        Yes, I need to call my uncle. He’s my last remaining uncle too. and you’re right, the ones with the stories have passed on. I do have a tape that another uncle made (other side of the family) that now that I think about it, I should really get that onto a CD as that cassette is bound to wear out. ah, so much to do, so little time! must. make. the. time! wow, your daughter is learning Yiddish? that’s impressive indeed! We come from the same part of the world, or close, we could be related 😉 Funny story: I met someone on another blog and we eventually learned that our respective ancestors all came from Kishinev!! we exchanged some family names but neither of us recognized any of them. but there is a good chance our families did know each other! Gives me chills you know? thanks for the inspiration, I will call my uncle soon!

      2. Yiddish is a really interesting language–she’s been reading aloud to me from a book called “Born to Kvetch.” She is also a first year Hebrew student. I think in some way she is reclaiming that part of her heritage that she lost when my father died, and we lost touch with his side of the family.

        I love your story about meeting someone from your family’s place of origin. If they lived in the same shtetl, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they had known each other. That is very cool!

        Once I was sitting in the back seat of a car, on my way to go hiking with a friend, and the friend of a friend. It turns out she had family that came over from Odessa in the Ukraine, too, only she was the granddaughter of a Cossack. I thought it was really interesting that our two families had come to a place in time and geographically where we could be friends. I wish it were that way everywhere!
        I hope you do get in touch with your uncle soon!

  10. Lynne Ayers says:

    Now, that’s what the season is all about. May you keep the feelings, family, friends and spirit throughout the coming year.

    1. Thank you, Lynne. And I wish the same for you.

  11. adinparadise says:

    What fun times you and your family have been having. I went to my first Hannukah party this year. Loved the potato latkes and apple sauce. I couldn’t stop eating them. 😀 Great pics, Naomi.

    1. Thanks, ad! Did you get the chance to spin the dreidel? Best wishes for the New Year.

      1. adinparadise says:

        No, there were no children there, and I didn’t see a Dreidel. 😦

      2. When we taught June and Haskell how to play, there were no children present, and he is diabetic, so I brought a couple of rolls of quarters, and that raised the stakes and made the game very interesting, even for adults.

      3. adinparadise says:

        Sounds like I really missed out . 😦

      4. There’s always next year!

  12. ShimonZ says:

    Very nice to read of the happy ending for the Aptekar family, and of connecting the branches and the threads of the family after a hundred years. Your pictures radiate warmth, and your post gives us a taste of the spirit of holiness in your home, during this very special season.

    1. Thank you so much, Shimon.

  13. dogear6 says:

    I loved reading your post and the family history! To have first hand knowledge of Crystal Night is terrible, but how wonderful they survived to tell about it, especially when so many didn’t. My grandfather was in Germany (attending college) during the hyper-inflation and his first hand stories made it much more real than the school books.


    1. Hi Nancy,
      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Crystal Night was also a pogrom, similar to this one, except that this one happened in Odessa, Ukraine in 1905, and that one happened in Germany in 1938. Oh, my gosh, is your grandfather still around to ask about it? It would be so interesting to be able to about it from the perspective of someone who was there at the time!

  14. pattisj says:

    This is a beautiful post, Naomi. I can’t imagine the hardships the former generations endured. How nice that once again the tapestry threads are being woven.

    1. Thank you, Patti, for your visit and thoughtful comment. It does feel healing, to be reconnected with long lost members of my family.

  15. Lisa at fLVE says:

    Happy New Year! May the blessings of another year be with you & yours! (Happy belated Hanukkah and Christmas also.)

    1. Thank you! And a happy New Year to you too, Lisa!

  16. What a wonderful gathering and such a spirited couple reconnecting family links and making new ones. Long may it continue.

    1. Hi Claire,
      Thank you! May your family ties be strong and supportive, and my you have a happy new year!

  17. We will never fully appreciate what our ancestors have been through, my ancestory on maternal side is Romanian but I don’t know much and records are sparse. you are very fortunate to have the branches of your tree to pick the fruit from and continue the growth of history and memories. A beautiful story thank you Naomi for sharing it with your blogging family 🙂

    1. Dear Len,
      I love the analogy! Thank you for visiting and commenting, and being a part of my blogging family!

      1. tis all my pleasure I assure you!

  18. never ever ever too late for a happy ending, or a new beginning!

    1. So true! Thanks for the kind word.

  19. Elyse says:

    What a great perspective you give all of us in our lives. Thanks, Naomi. Happy New Year.

    1. Thank you for stoping by, Elyse. Happy New Year to you too!

  20. We celebrate the miracle of Chrismukkah to. I like the history lesson also! It’s nice to see other families like mine!

    1. Hello, Chrismukkins! Thanks so much for the visit. Best wishes for the New Year!

  21. See how those tax receipts refuse to die! I hope the sun has come out since, and you’ve managed to burn them.

    You have such an interesting extended family. Such lovely happy photos. Thank you for sharing them 🙂

    1. Hah! I have them cornered in my office, like a snowdrift, only made of paper, knee high, and I can’t get close enough to touch them. Now I have to spend the month of January immortalizing the latest batch of business receipts, due at the end of the month.

      Thank you for stopping by, Sarah, and for your always-kind-and-generous comments.

  22. Madhu says:

    A beautiful and heartwarming post Naomi! It really is never too late to pick up the links! Wishing you and your extended family much happiness in the coming year 🙂

    1. Thank you, Madhu. I wish you and your family a very Happy New Year!

  23. Anne Fitzgerald says:

    Tears and blessings! May we evolve beyond hatred and cruelty and realize that what we do to others we do to ourselves, that we are all One.

    1. Yesssss!!!!!! May it be so.

  24. restlessjo says:

    Fascinating pasts we have, Naomi. I love all the traditions. Is a dreidel some kind of pastry? I know you’ll carry on spreading happiness in the New Year.

    1. Hi Jo,
      A dreidel is a little spinning top that the Jews have been playing with for a thousand years. When the Romans forbad them to teach their religion, they did anyway. If a Roman soldier walked by, they’d take out the dreidel and pretend to be playing a game until he left, and then they’d continue their teaching. The 4 letters on the dreidel, one on each side, mean, ” A great miracle happened there,” and it refers to the miracle of Hanukkah…but that’s another story.

      Thank you so much for visiting, and taking the time to comment.

  25. Carol says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays, and how great that you have the history of your families – that much more to celebrate. The courage, the sadness, the happiness, the survival – amazing!

    1. I am sure that every family has its challenges, and some amazing stories. Every person on this earth has bloodlines that stretch back to the beginning of time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to know them all!

  26. frizztext says:

    sad: Victims of 1905 pogrom in Odessa – but thank you, Naomi, for adding many soothing pictures (and words) too!

    1. Thank you for your visit, Frizz, and taking the time to share your thoughts.

  27. Beautiful post Naomi and wishing you all good things in 2013

    1. Thank you, and all the best to you too.

  28. Char says:

    Wow! That is quite a family legacy. What an awful time that had to have been as the Cossaks went on their pogram. Your dad’s long lost cousins seem amazing. And Hannukah sushi sounds divine. What a fun reunion you had to learn all this neat history of your family.

  29. Jamie Dedes says:

    No it is never too late for a happy ending. Thank you for sharing this one.

    Bravo! for reuniting family. 🙂

    Maybe the next time you are in the Bay Area to see your daughter at school, you would like to investigate this:
    Sounds like you would have much to share, especially since you found the diary.

    1. Hi Jamie,
      I’d heard of the Story Corps, and I know they were targeting special groups, like WWII vets, but I never knew they had anything like this for Jewish Americans. I’m sure I will get down there to visit Bea sometime, and I will check it out.

      I’d like to go back to the Ukraine and see what I can learn about Odessa. My grandfather was from Kiev, and all his relatives were killed at Babi Yar in WWII, but I think it would be interesting to look around Odessa, where my Grandma grew up. We think we might know the street she lived on, and if we find where the Jewish Quarter intersects that street, we might safely say we were walking upon the streets that she had in your youth.

  30. nutsfortreasure says:

    Wow! What a story of your past you have. I have started on a journey myself of digging up bones finding answers you blog post gives me HOPE

    I am glad you enjoyed your holidays and I want to wish you a Very Happy New Year I am glad you are on my list of those I follow.


    1. Hi Eunice,
      I’d love to hear more about your journey back into family history! I am glad we connected too, and I do enjoy following your blog as well. I hope you had a good New Year’s Day!

      1. nutsfortreasure says:

        I did I rested back all day and will again today and write


        Thanks for stopping by

  31. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Absolutely beautiful. You brought tears to my eyes and hopefulness to my heart. Lovely Naomi just lovely. 🙂 I am so happy you all reconnected.

    1. That is so sweet, Kourtney. Thanks so much for the visit, and taking time to share your thoughts.

  32. eof737 says:

    What a beautiful family… {{{HUGS}}} 🙂

  33. elisaruland says:

    You live your life for the happy ending, Naomi. I love your philosophy and that you place your family first, weaving them many wonderful memories to cherish and move forward.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks you so much, Elisa. A Happy New Year to you too!

  34. TBM says:

    Wonderful family and memories. That’s how it should be.

    1. Thank you so much for your visit, and for taking the time to comment!

  35. tita buds says:

    Never too late for a happy ending, never too late for a first Hanukkah for a couple in their late 80s. Much to learn and appreciate in this post, Naomi. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Tita! And I hope it’s never too late to reply to a great comment. I appreciate your visit, and your perspective. Best wishes for the New Year!

  36. I enjoyed your family photos. And thanks for stopping by to like one of my posts. Unfortunately, that was my old blog. My “newer” one at is new and improved. I hope you’ll stop by.
    Thanks, Naomi
    Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  37. fgassette says:

    I enjoyed your post and photos.

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, too. I really enjoy your blog, and look forward to many more visits over the coming year. Best wishes!

  38. What an incredible story of survival and how lovely to be able to celebrate the holiday season together, it is indeed a happy ending.

  39. reocochran says:

    I enjoyed this story with pictures about how you celebrate both religions and make it your own special holiday season! Fun and lively times! Robin

    1. Thank you, Robin. I think there is room for everyone at the table! I sure appreciate your stopping by.

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